What CLIL can and cannot do

March 20, 2023


I often visit schools where bilingual education has been around for a very long time, like more than 10 years. You’d think CLIL would be ‘hot and happening’ because of that. However, the opposite is often true.

Estimated time to read this article: 6 minutes

CLIL is a fantastic way to get more active students, promote language output and make more conscious decisions on what you do during a lesson.

But CLIL is not a magic bullet that solves all of your problems.

During coaching sessions, I sometimes hear teachers ask me questions related to teaching they would like to see solved.

In this post I’d like to share a few of these, and what you can and cannot do with CLIL.

Two things CLIL cannot do

1. Set up class management

I sometimes receive questions like: “How can I motivate students to do their work?” or “How can I make sure students do not misbehave?”

The challenge with this is, is that CLIL is all about the didactic approach to your lesson.

It is not about class management or creating a ‘safe learning environment’.

Sure, those things are necessary for CLIL to succeed. But in that order.

First, you take care of the basics: getting students to do what you want them to do, listening to you when you talk, and behaving in class.

Only after that do you think about what you want them to do.

And I know, with CLIL activities you can improve the engagement, interactivity and overall active learning of students.

But you cannot use CLIL to tackle class management issues.

It might even be the other way around: if you do not have your class management organised, CLIL might just fail.

And then it is not CLIL that is to blame I think.

Key Take Away

CLIL is a way of teaching, but requires that a teacher knows the basics of teaching

2. Overcome inexperience

That is also the reason many CLIL teachers start out by just ‘translating their lesson’.

Not a problem per sé, as long as you do it in the correct order.

In my case: I translated my English-focused CLIL lessons into Dutch, my native language.

“I already do CLIL, even in my regular lessons” 

A physics teacher from the Netherlands

In other words: I implemented CLIL ideas into my ‘regular’ lessons. Which worked like a charm.

After all, non-bilingual students also like structure in their lessons (a.k.a. scaffolding), a focus on difficult phrases (language elements) and engaging activities.

But when you just start out with teaching, you are quite focused on getting students to do what you want them to do. 

And the second language might be a barrier. For both you and your students.

My advice would be to have a couple of years of experience teaching before starting out teaching CLIL.

So you can actually take your experience and use that to implement CLIL. 

Instead of translating your lesson and basically teaching your lesson in English.

Without CLIL.

Key Take Away

Despite the fact that CLIL is not hard to do, it is something to focus on only after you have had a little experience in teaching to avoid 'translating'.

Two things CLIL can do

1. Improve engagement

By implementing CLIL activities in your lesson and focusing on making sure all students are engaged with the task, students are more motivated.

This sounds almost too good to be true, and I am not saying in any way that this is something that is easily achieved.

But I have seen the effect of good CLIL teaching on learners and it still amazes me all the time to see what is possible when students are not asked to raise their hands, but instead constantly share their progress, questions and ideas with each other.

Key Take Away

By implementing CLIL activities in your lesson, student engagement will go up and students will be more motivated.

2. Improve teaching in general

As mentioned before, I started implementing CLIL activities in my ‘regular’ lessons years ago.

And I am not the only one. Many CLIL teachers I talk with share this experience.

Simply because many ideas behind CLIL work. In any lesson.

In other words: if you start implementing CLIL in your bilingual lessons, it is very likely that you are also going to change your regular teaching.

For the better.

This also, again, works the other way around: it could be you already implement a lot of CLIL ideas to your lesson, without realising this.

And that is perfectly fine, it would simply be even better if you did it consistently.

Key Take Away

CLIL works in any lesson, also in non-bilingual ones.

What can you do to get CLIL to work in your lesson?

I completely understand if these things might seem ‘daunting’ when you read about them after you just started out teaching CLIL.

Or maybe you wonder what you are already doing that is already CLIL.

During March, I opened up my calendar to discuss this with you.

So if you’d like, you can plan a free sparring session to see what can be improved in your lesson.

I guarantee two practical lesson ideas you can implement immediately in your lesson.

Book a call now, hope to speak to you soon!

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